Remember Pearl Harbor

Today is December 7. We should remember Pearl Harbor as we do 9/11. Both attacks came out of clear blue skies early in the morning. In both cases the United States was at peace. Our enemies surprised us with known technologies used in unexpected ways. In both cases the attacks provoked a change in American security paradigms. Pearl Harbor was more a threat to the U.S. in traditional terms. The Japanese simultaneously followed up with attacks on the U.S. and others all over Asia. The expected follow up to September 11 never came, although we are still not sure how that story will end.

I suggest you read and LISTEN to Roosevelt’s speech at
You can hear President Bush at

I prefer Roosevelt’s soaring rhetoric, but styles change.

Why would the Japanese attack the United States? Admiral Yamamoto had traveled in the U.S. and knew its power. He may never have actually uttered the quote attributed to him ("I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."), but those were his sentiments. The Japanese miscalculated American resolve. They predicted that the Americans wouldn’t fight if they were sufficiently bloodied. The Japanese never intended to defeat America. Their goal was to intimidate the U.S. into allowing the creation of the Japanese Asian “co-prosperity sphere,” where Japan would be free to develop markets for its products and find the raw materials it so desperately needed.

Japanese propaganda told us that Asia should belong to “the Asians,” by which they meant themselves. We were told that the Japanese were fanatics, who preferred death to life without victory and there was some reason to believe this to be true, given the 1940s version of suicide bombers. The “orient” was just too different to be understood by Americans, we were told and many believed.

The U.S. remade Japan. There is no other way to express it. Now of course, the cultural road is no longer one-way, as anyone who has teenage kids can attest. The country that was thought so foreign and fanatic became a steady U.S. ally. Ironically, as part of the worldwide free market under American economic and security hegemony, the Japanese achieved all the goals (except military domination) that they had sought thorough aggressive war. Japan came to rival the United States, but the peaceful competition resulted in better and cheaper products and a rising standard of living on both sides of he broad pacific. If you can sell Toyotas, you don't need to bomb ships in the harbor.

What if the U.S. had stopped short? We could have had a sort of "compromise" peace with Japan. Historians still argue that we had no need to fight the war the bitter end. The lesson of history fresh in the minds of Americans involved in war planning was the incomplete settlement after World War I. Don’t leave a wounded and aggrieved enemy, was what they remembered.

I am not sure what lessons this has for us today. But I look forward to your comments.

Posted by Jack at December 7, 2004 5:23 PM